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Lent with Br. Casey: Death Posted by Br. Casey Cole, OFM on 3/5/18 12:00 AM  
  Posted On : 06 Mar 2018   Posted by Fr. blog.franciscanmedia  
 

 

My grandmother lived a very long, full life. In the 91 years before she died, she raised a family of 10 children—her crown jewel—who then produced her 28 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Never once did she go to a party and fail to make an impression on the other guests; and all throughout her life, she found pleasure praying the rosary and going to Mass, even being fortunate enough to pilgrimage to both Rome and Medjugorje on multiple occasions. If there was a bucket list for my grandmother, I can hardly think of something that she left unchecked. She lived a very long, full life.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.

Statistically speaking, roughly 160,000 people die every day around the world. Of those, 29,000 are children under the age of five dying from mostly preventable causes. And while overall age expectancy is up to 69 years old—the greatest it has ever been in human history—an estimated one in five people will still die between the ages of 15 and 60.

Why do 3-year-olds die? Why are so many lives cut short, leaving behind family and loved ones? Why does God allow innocent people to die? 

While some may see these questions as an attack on God, a show of one’s lack of faith or antagonism against religion, I believe that our asking them is not only justified, they are at the very core of our faith. More than anything else, our Christian faith finds its merit in our ability to answer the difficult questions of life and death. In fact, I believe that Jesus wanted us to ask the question so that he could answer it. 

Cue chapter 11 of John’s Gospel. 

Traveling around to preach with his disciples, Jesus hears word that his close friend, Lazarus, is gravely ill. Knowing of course that Jesus has already performed six extraordinary signs thus far in the Gospel, the reader no doubt expects him to return to his friend to perform one more. But he doesn’t. Instead, and against his disciples urging, he remains where he is and lets Lazarus die. This detail is not lost on Lazarus’ sister.

Upon arriving to Lazarus’ house, now four days after his death, Martha shares with Jesus how she truly feels: “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” Even though she concludes by showing that she trusts Jesus, Martha, once again, represents how we so often feel. Why, God, when you have such power would you let this happen? Don’t you love us? She, like so many of us in tragedy, is unable to reconcile how God can be all loving and all powerful, and yet allow things like this to happen.

So why did Jesus delay? Was it because he didn’t truly care for Lazarus? Surely not, as he wept when he saw his tomb. Was it because he didn’t have the power to heal him? Surely not, as he had already shown the power to perform incredible signs of the Father’s glory. 

No, the reason he delays, as he tells his disciples on the road that they are delaying, “is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus wanted Lazarus to die so that he could show how pointless a fear of death is. Jesus wanted to show that death—the inevitable event that we dread, the thing that grips our souls and leaves us in fear more than anything else—has no power over him. “I am the resurrection and the life,” he says. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” 

Death is not a punishment from God or something to fear because death is not the end of the story. It is a beginning. It is a sign of the great power and wonder of God to give even greater life to those who lose their earthly one, a sign that he demonstrates in his own dying, offering us a path to follow. We have to die if we want to be like Jesus. We have to die if we want to rise and live with him for eternity. In allowing Lazarus to die and demystifying the experience of death—even tragic ones—Jesus calls us to follow after him, even in death, without fear. 

And so he asks Martha, and I believe asks all of us when we find ourselves struck by tragedy, “Do you believe this?” Do we truly believe that Jesus has the power to conquer death? Do we believe that Jesus truly rose from the grave and that we who are baptized into his death will do the same? Do we believe that death is not the end but in fact simply a new beginning, a gateway into eternal communion with the creator of the universe? 

And what would our lives look like if we truly did? 

My guess is that it would still be sad. Jesus wept when he heard of Lazarus’ death because it’s always sad to lose someone we love. Whether its my 91-year-old grandmother or a 3-year-old child, death is always tragic. It is still OK to mourn. 

And yet, if we truly believed what Jesus showed us in his raising of Lazarus, we could never despair or give up hope. Our lives would not be dictated by fear of death, getting old, or losing loved ones, but constantly filled with the reassuring joy that nothing—not even death—can keep us from the communion we share with each other in Jesus. Jesus did not simply “raise from the dead,” Jesus is alive. Jesus is, in the present tense. And so are we. And so is everyone we love now or ever loved in the past.

We may never know for sure why some people die tragically earlier than others, and yet we find in Jesus that the question doesn’t have the sting that it used to. Death is not a punishment or the end, but our entrance into eternal life with God and others.

 
     
 
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    Nov 14th, 2018 TI 3:1-7 Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time Lectionary: 493 Reading Beloved: Remind them to be under the control of magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise. They are to slander no one, to be peaceable, considerate, exercising all graciousness toward everyone. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life. Responsorial Psalm PS 23:1B-3A, 3BC-4, 5, 6 R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. He guides me in right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side With your rod and your staff that give me courage. R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come. R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Alleluia 1 THES 5:18 R. Alleluia, alleluia. In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. R. Alleluia, alleluia. Gospel LK 17:11-19 As Jesus continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voice, saying, "Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!" And when he saw them, he said, "Go show yourselves to the priests." As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you."
     
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